Richmond Council has been taken to High Court over a censorship zone, which bans prayer and offers of support outside an abortion clinic.
Legal proceedings have been launched against Richmond Council to challenge a controversial Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) around an abortion clinic on Rosslyn Road that makes it a criminal offence to, among other things, pray or have conversations about abortion.
The legal challenge has been brought by Justyna Pasek, who has personally supported women visiting the abortion clinic in Richmond for over five years, offering them street counselling and alternatives to abortion.
The broadly worded PSPO came into effect on 1st April this year and specifically criminalises otherwise peaceful activities concerning abortion such as conversations about abortion or alternative options; counselling; prayer; offering leaflets that outline the practical help that women can access; and any ‘act of approval or disapproval’.
Richmond Council voted to proceed with the implementation of the censorship zone despite ‘major’ concerns being raised by civil rights organisations, including Liberty, which submitted that the provisions of the PSPO are ‘too widely drawn and likely to inhibit lawful protest’.
The development in Richmond comes as the ongoing legal challenge in Ealing is set to be heard by the Court of Appeal on 16th July. The High Court judgment which upheld the Ealing PSPO made clear that there was no ‘green light’ for councils to bring in PSPOs to ban pro-life vigils, however Richmond’s PSPO is worded almost identically to Ealing’s PSPO.
PSPOs hit headlines recently as they have been used by councils to ban activities such as begging, spitting and rough sleeping. Richmond Council previously lost a challenge to another controversial PSPO that would have criminalised local dog walkers if their dogs so much as urinated while out on a walk, and they have set aside £100,000 in anticipation of a legal challenge over this PSPO.
A crowdfunding appeal to cover the costs of Ms Pasek’s legal challenge raised over £10,000 in one week, and the crowdfunder for the case in Ealing has raised over £50,000.
The Home Secretary rejected nationwide ‘buffer zones’ last September highlighting that “the majority of activities are more passive in nature”.
Ms Pasek, said: “I understand what is at stake in Richmond because I have stood outside that abortion clinic many times and offered women alternatives to abortion.
“I have met women who just needed a little help, at the right time and in the right place, in order to keep the child that they desperately wanted. They would not get the help they need in the abortion clinic.”
Picture: Pro-life campaigners.